Flu season ends. Planning begins.

The flu season begins on Oct. 1, just as autumn rolls in, and runs through May 19, when summer is approaching, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

In between, businesses face hollowed-out workplaces as employees take time off to recover from high fever, body aches and fatigue.

No business or worker is immune. CEOs, front-line workers, retail associates, they all get hit.

Calling out sick prevents the spread of the disease but impacts day-to-day productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu causes U.S. employees nationwide to miss approximately 17 million work days, adding up to an estimated $7 billion a year in lost productivity.

The Department of Health reports that the Lehigh Valley has seen a relatively steady incidence of the flu this season. Lehigh County has notched 3,770 cases to date, up from 3,654 for the full season last. Northampton County is at 3,158 cases to date, down from more than 5,600 last year.

Dr. Brett Perkison, assistant professor of occupational medicine at The University of Texas School of Public Health, recommends that companies begin preparing for the flu season before it is underway.

“Begin preparing in the summer for what you will need in September to launch an all-out anti-flu campaign,” Perkison said.

Perkison said the best way to reduce flu rates is with vaccinations. “A high vaccination rate among your employees will help,” he said. “A 90 percent vaccination rate is enough to provide herd immunity to the entire staff and stop the spread of the flu.”

Perkison recommends that company leaders set an example by sharing when they get the flu shot themselves.

The flu shot also should also be easily accessible to employees – on-site if possible – and administered by health care providers that are familiar to and trusted by employees, according to Perkison.

Finally, employers should educate their employees about the flu and the steps that they can take to avoid and manage it, like sanitizing keyboards, washing hands, and staying home and seeking medical care at the first sign of the illness.

“If a patient seeks medical care within the first 48 hours of showing symptoms, there are antiviral drugs that can be administered and lower the effects of the flu,” Perkison said.

Victaulic, a pipe systems manufacturing company in Forks Township, begins preparations for flu season in August

That is when the company’s benefits administrators gather to begin preparing an anti-flu campaign, according to Megan Longenderfer, manager of corporate communications at Victaulic. Flu vaccinations begin as early as late September.

At Victaulic, the flu vaccinations are given on site. The shots are made available by the company’s internal medical team at no cost or through a voucher employees can take to any CVS pharmacy.

“In addition to vaccinations, we also believe that continuing education on the importance of proper hygiene helps with prevention,” said Lisa Betz, benefits administrator for Victaulic. “Employees learn the importance of proper hand washing through various communications such as flyers in bathrooms, educational videos during safety training meetings, and through monthly newsletters provided internally as well as through our wellness program partner.”

WFMZ-TV 69 News in Allentown, also offers flu shots to employees, said Barry Fisher, president and general manager of the station.

“Our people are made aware of the precautions to take and are very mindful,” he added. “No one likes to be taken down with the flu.”

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